The massive challenges humanity now faces are systemic – they are interwoven, created by a system-wide flaw. That flaw stems from the disparity between the way life on Earth works and the way we manage and organize our for-profit or non-profit value-creating ventures – our organizations.
‘Regenerative Business’ aims to close the gap between how we work and how nature works; therefore tackling the challenges we face at their root.
Put simply – ‘regenerative’ means working the way nature works. When we’re being regenerative we are in-tune with inner-nature (our psychology, mindset and culture) and outer-nature (our relationships and activities), and are contributing to the evolutionary potential of life on Earth. We work with the grain of nature rather than against it. In reality, this is a never-ending and ever-evolving journey of deepening into life by becoming more of who we truly are, individually, organizationally, societally.
For an organization to be on this regenerative journey, it must work toward enriching all stakeholders, including employees, customers, suppliers, investors, the wider society, and the environment; intending for all life to flourish. This is not some nice-to-have wishful-thinking, it is well within our grasp, very doable with the technologies and tools we have available to us today, and quite frankly the only viable pathway ahead if we wish to survive and thrive as a species on this living planet. Why would we wish for anything less? We are part of life, and ought thrive within the natural conditions, laws and rhythms of our home.
While sustainable business has greatly helped identify and reduce the negative social and environmental impacts of the organization, it does not necessarily involve a mindset shift from mechanistic into living-systems (the way nature works). In fact, the majority of sustainability initiatives I’ve come across over the last two decades often unwittingly compound the mechanistic mindset that created the problems in the first place. Measuring and reducing one impact over-here can have unintended negative consequences over-there, while the underlying mechanistic mind-set that corrupts life itself is left largely unchecked. For sure, sustainable business is better than conventional business, but it’s not necessarily the same as regenerative business, which involves a living-systems mindset that seeks attunement with nature’s rhythms and ways. In my latest book Leading by Nature, I explore this necessary shift from the 400 year-old worldview of Mechanistic Materialism and emerging worldview of Quantum Complexity, and how this activates living-systems leadership and organizational development. (see Leading by Nature).
Operating the organization with a living-systems approach helps both the top-line and bottom-line of the business, by driving-out bureaucracy, bringing-in agility, unlocking creativity, and enabling entrepreneurialism through all levels of the organization. Research clearly shows that organizations that mimic life consistently out-perform their mechanistic counterparts. (see, Leading by Nature)
Yet, there is a fundamental difference between seeking to become regenerative because it makes the organization more agile, responsive, purposeful and profitable amid an uncertain marketplace, and seeking to become regenerative because it feels true in our being, and helps the organization become more true in its being, while also aiding agility, future-fitness and profitability. The former puts the cart before the horse; the latter is in good order.
On this regenerative journey we begin to see the organization no longer as a machine to managed and controlled in top-down hierarchic ways, but as a complex adaptive system, a ‘living-system’, with its own essence, life-force, sense of purpose, inner-nature (the culture) and outer-nature (the value propositions and stakeholder relationships).
And there are a growing number of example organizations embracing this journey because they know it’s true to their being – I give a couple of examples here to illustrate the diversity of such organizations:
Vivobarefoot is a foot-wear company operating in a highly competitive global market. Through its commitment to the regenerative journey it has been enhancing the regenerative potential of both the inner and outer dimensions of its business. The ‘outer’ shift is through developments in the sustainability of its products (e.g. using natural biodegradable ingredients and sourcing sustainably), and the shift from products to services (circular design-repair-reuse methods) and the cultivation of communities with education around health, wellbeing and nature-connection. Vivo actively attends to the ‘inner’ shift by embedding regenerative leadership throughout its culture, shifting from parent-child hierarchy into adult-adult self-managing agility, and nurturing a culture of regenerative feedback, learning and evolution that is diverse and inclusive. The company not only has high levels of employee happiness and engagement, it also has strong customer satisfaction, solid profitable growth, and the ability to attract some of the best talent from across the industry. See here a recent podcast with CEO Galahad Clark – there’s a whole chapter dedicated to the extraordinary case-study of Vivobarefoot in Leading by Nature.
Houdini, a global provider of clothes for the outdoors, again operating in a highly competitive market. As well as nurturing a healthy adult-adult culture where people are encouraged to bring their whole selves to work, it also aims to be regenerative and circular across its entire product range within a few years, and is working on global collaborations to enable attractive and regenerative lifestyle solutions. It shares its pioneering sustainable designs openly, even with competitors, through Houdini Open Source a platform for sharing knowledge on sustainable methodologies, technologies and solutions worldwide. It also sees its responsibility to educate and empower customers to become more regenerative.
North Star Housing Group, a UK Housing Association. North Star has a culture that encourages employees to thrive while delivering best-in-class services to their clients so that they can thrive. Respectful relating across the culture within and beyond the business, where all stakeholder relations are conducted in adult-adult ways, with a coaching-culture that enables a blend of hierarchy and self-management to work in flexible ways. As a result of this, North Star consistently out performs in its market and wins awards for customer service and employee culture. Due to this focus on regenerative ways of working, and in the midst of a very difficult business climate, its organization grows while others in the market contract.
Greenheart, a social and environmental impact consultancy. Its ‘outer-nature’ value propositions are 100% focused on enabling its client organizations to lead the transition to a fair, regenerative and inclusive economy. It offers world-class impact assessments and strategies for a broad-range of clients seeking regenerative futures. As it grows as a business it is keen to ensure it remains true to its own regenerative potential, and is committed to cultivating a regenerative culture by engaging with the regenerative leadership journey much like Vivobarefoot is – nurturing a culture of adult-adult self-managing, regenerative feedback, learning and evolution that is diverse and inclusive. In-so-doing its able to attract and retain leading talent and walk-its-talk while helping its clients become regenerative. See here a recent podcast with the CEO Tom Bourne.
AXA Climate, an international insurance provider. Like Greenheart, 100% of AXA Climate’s value propositions are focused on the transition toward regenerative futures. Its mission is to make regenerative business universal by helping clients transition from extractive companies to regenerative companies, by offering a range of services including training, education, finance, consulting and insurance services. It’s actively working on its culture in-line with the regenerative journey, recognizing the organization-as-a-living-system and like Greenheart, Vivobarefoot and other pioneers, it’s carefully nurturing a culture of adult-adult self-managing, regenerative feedback, learning and evolution. In-so-doing it attracts and retains high quality talent from across the globe as it grows. It now has over 150 passionate and committed people in Paris, London, Zurich, Miami, Sydney, Shanghai, Hong Kong and New Delhi. See here a recent podcast with the CEO Antoine Denoix.
There are many more examples of organizations regardless of size and sector on the regenerative journey that I mention in Leading by Nature.
The branding of a business has traditionally focused on the outer-nature of the organization, how it shows-up in the world through PR, communications, advertising, social messaging and such like. Yet on the regenerative journey, the inner-nature and outer-nature of the organization start to integrate and become whole. Then the brand is not simply an outer presentation, but a congruent inner-outer way of being, pervading both the inner workings of the organization (culture) and outer (value propositions, stakeholder relations and marketing/messaging).
This is just one way in which regenerative business is different from sustainable business, in that both the inner-nature and the outer-nature of the organization are part-and-parcel of the regenerative journey. Another way regenerative business is a step-on from sustainable business is the threshold-crossing in worldview/mindset involved. This is essential, and yet sometimes overlooked in our excitement to use the word ‘regenerative’. Regenerative is not simply ‘net positive’, nor a trade-off of negative and positive impacts. Regenerative is about deepening our sense of connection with inner-outer nature, so that we work more in harmony with life. We become more whole and life-affirming. Yes, it involves measuring impact and reducing the negative while accentuating the positive – but its not limited to impact measurement, it relies upon a mindset shift for atleast some of the key leaders across the organization and ideally more broadly across the living-system.
Here is an illustration I often share with clients. I have seen similar versions with a straight line from left to right. Both the straight-line image and the curved one provided here offer an easy-to-understand continuum of conventional to sustainable to net positive/restorative to regenerative business.
While this is indeed helpful in conveying a progression, it can indicate that the progression is incremental without any phase-change. In reality, there is a threshold-crossing from an old worldview (mechanistic) into a new worldview (living-systems) that is endured during the journey of becoming a regenerative business – as in this illustration:
This threshold-crossing affects both leadership development and organizational development. As we transition through the worldview shift from mechanistic to regenerative we experience a breakdown of old ways of working, and a breakthrough in our ability to work organizationally. Often this can be experienced organizationally as a flickering-stage with some flip-flopping between old and new states (people questioning and challenging the need to transform, and hankering after old-ways), before momentum gathers and the threshold is crossed into the new state. The flickering state-change can take years, and depends upon courageous leadership, especially amid volatile business climes. Its all-too-easy to turn back toward the safety of the status-quo.
This breakdown-breakthrough threshold-crossing is nothing less than a metamorphosis, a death-rebirth process of letting-go of old ways and an opening into a deeper state of meaning-making; a shift in our orientation of self-other-world from separateness to interconnectedness. At an organizational level this involves an up-stretch in both self-and-systemic awareness across the living-organization. Yet, the developmental nature of the emerging culture is able to hold-space for a diverse stages of meaning-making amongst the people involved – i.e. not everyone will be up for adult-adult self-managing ways, and different parts of the living-system may adapt and evolve in different ways that other parts of the system. For instance, the Finance department may foster a slightly different governance and decision-making style than say the Marketing department. And the traditional boundaries between departments may also permeate and flex as agile cross-functional teams become more prevalent.
It starts with the self.
We can all start the regenerative journey right here right now, by firstly feeling the sense of disconnectedness we have come accustom to, and also feel the sense of interconnectedness that’s the true nature of our inner-being.
Until we take this essential step of stilling our busy minds, sensing inward by becoming intimate with the immanence of our own inner-being and becoming more transparent to the transcendent nature of life, we are still lost.
One of the beautiful facts of life is that if we allow ourselves to relax, breathe deep, and get out of our fear-filled ego-chatter for a few brief moments, are bodyminds naturally start to regenerate, renew and find flow. Becoming regenerative is something we can all naturally do, for free. The challenge is, we’ve been heavily conditioned into ways that take us out of the natural flow of life, so we need to retrain ourselves to become naturally regenerative once again. Each person is different, and yet there are tried-and-tested practices that help us all. (See some free-to-download tools here and a set of advanced practices are provided in the book Leading by Nature).
Human-beings are neither sophisticated machines, nor conglomerations of selfish genes, nor are we just cognitive, emotional, and physiological beings. We are essentially bio-psycho-spiritual beings that thrive on meaning and connectedness. Ground-breaking scientific studies show how necessary a deep sense of connectedness is to seeing the world more fully, cultivating richer relationships, deepening our sense of purpose, and moving from a narrowed-down competitive and degenerative attention into a more holistic and regenerative attention.
Until we recognise and deeply feel life as a participatory affair steeped in consciousness, and that both ourselves and our organizations are immersed in, never separate from, this sentient interconnectedness, we are still novices on the regenerative journey. As we open into this awareness, we learn to attune with Nature’s Wisdom, and lead transmutes into gold.
It’s not difficult to undertake the first step on the regenerative journey (though having the courage and conviction to keep walking the regenerative path is not for the faint-hearted).
No PhD, MSc, MBA, Diploma, Masterclass or Bootcamp is required here. In fact no effort at all is asked for in the first instance, only an active-relaxation that provides for an inner attentiveness. This starts with intention – the intention to feel into one’s own psyche and soul. As the godfather of analytical psychology Carl Jung noted, ‘The one who looks outside dreams, the one who looks inside awakens.’ Too many of our leadership development, organizational development, culture change and sustainable business programmes are overly-consumed in looking outside – asserting change upon the world from a place of mechanistic disconnection. The time has come to awaken.
To no longer live on the surface but to open into the inner-dimension of life, requires a threshold-crossing, beyond fear, desire and ego. This journey of dying-before-you-die alters every cell and leaves no stone unturned. It’s not a quick fix and brings up all sorts of old-baggage in us and in the systems we operate in. It involves reintegrating the masculine and feminine energies in the psyche, as we open our hearts and minds to an interiority of reality that is paradoxically nothing-and-nowhere yet everything-and-everywhere.
Many of us have already encountered brief states of oneness and gained momentary glimpses beyond the veil of separateness. To welcome-in this regularly into our everyday experience of life is a journey of courage that intensifies the inner-life, quietens the ego-mind, and awakens our intuition of interbeing. To attain a meaningful and lasting shift in consciousness is beneficial not just for ourselves as leaders and change agents, but directly impacts the inner and outer nature of the organizations we operate in. This is why well-funded organizations ranging from the likes of Google and Microsoft to the US Military are investing in Mindgyms that cost millions to run with a whole host of bodymind tools. But these are all-too-often biohacks amid a sea of separateness, giving false hope amid degenerative extractive mindsets. What we need in 2023 is a real reorientation into a deeper perception of life.
Nature is not just ‘out there’ but also ‘in here’ and everywhere, nonlocatable beyond object and species. It includes what Plato explored as his Ideas or Forms, Aristotle in his ‘formal cause’, Pythagoras in the ‘Music of the Spheres’, Henri Bergeson with ‘elan vital’, Martin Heidegger with ‘poiesis’. It includes what scientists like Einstein, Schrodinger, Bohr and Bohm seek to define with the ‘Quantum Vaccum’ or ‘Field’, and what complexity theorists like Capra, Bateson and Smuts explore as individual minds immersed within an immanent mind or ‘Mind of Nature’. It includes what psychologists like Jung and von Franz found in the ‘collective unconscious’ upon which the individual psyche floats.
Drain nature of this animating interpenetrating interiority, and we end up back in the very Mechanistic Materialism that created our problems in the first place. And so any meaningful regenerative journey must, at some point, come into contact with inner-outer reality in all its resplendent richness.
The task of our time is not just to become carbon-efficient while optimizing the existing business model and mindset, but to evolve our ways into ones more harmonious with the evolutionary potential of life on Earth. This necessarily involves us remembering/reawakening a depth of perception that re-orientates our psyche and its sense of place and purpose in life.
For the vast proportion of our human history we have deeply felt and psychically intuited this depth of inner-outer nature as a potent and real animating presence in our lives. Only the last 400 years has the rise of Mechanistic Materialism driven us to the surface of things, and in-so-doing encouraged us to struggle as separate species in a dog-eat-dog fashion, debasing the sacredness of life en-route.
But wait a minute! We have a crisis on our hands here! No time for sensing the depth in anything, we must hurry ourselves to fix things out-there – a toute vitesse!
In our haste, we often overlook that the wholesale disintegration of our societies and structures are informed by the disintegration of our own psyches. We’ve forgotten who we truly are, and let ourselves be ruled by fear.
Any wise way ahead in 2023 and beyond necessarily involves steps towards the regeneration of the human psyche; a reintegration into the inner-outer nature of life on Earth.
To orientate ourselves within any living-system, its ecosystem, neighbourhood, society and environment, we need to open into the inner-dimension of the system that informs its outer forms. Without this reorientation we are but lost in illusion.
Inside each one of us – regardless of education, background, class, creed, colour or sexual orientation – is a deep longing to reconnect with the rapture of reality. It’s this deep longing we need to tap in to, or our responses to our crises will continue to be superficial and miss the whole point of what these crises are here to awake us to.
Giles Hutchins is a pioneering practitioner and senior adviser at the fore-front of the [r]evolution in organizational and leadership consciousness and developmental approaches that enhance personal, organizational and systemic agility and vitality. He is author and co-author of several leadership and organizational development papers, and the books The Nature of Business (2012), The Illusion of Separation (2014), Future Fit (2016), Regenerative Leadership (2019) and Leading by Nature (2022). Chair of The Future Fit Leadership Academy and Founder of Leadership Immersions, co-founder of Biomimicry for Creative Innovation and Regenerators, he runs a 60 acre leadership centre at Springwood Farm, an area of outstanding natural beauty near London, UK. Previously held corporate roles – Head of Transformation Practice for KPMG, Global Director and Head of Sustainability for Atos (150,000 employees, over 40 countries). He provides coaching at individual and organizational levels for those seeking to transform their personal and/or work lives. Giles is a keynote speaker on the future of business and regenerative leadership. He is also a Reiki Master, a certified advanced coach, and trained in advanced Integral Solonics leadership development as well as other modalities.
“Leading by Nature is THE handbook for conscious leadership. A must-read for every business leader who genuinely cares about the future of humanity.’ Jayn Sterland, CEO of Weleda UK
“A truly exceptional and timely book that redefines the locus of power in relationship to leadership; leadership that seeks harmony and alignment with nature. Giles reminds us to bring awareness/presence to everything that unfolds. This book is the teacher we all need.” Sue Cheshire, Founder and former CEO of The Global Leaders Academy
“Leading by Nature gets to the heart of the shift in leadership that is now required to create a sustainable future for humanity.” – Richard Barrett, Director of the Barrett Academy for the Advancement of Human Values.
“This book is a must-read for those involved in the future of business. I can’t recommend Giles’s work highly enough.” – Norman Wolfe, CEO of Quantum Leaders and author of The Living Organization: Transforming Business To Create Extraordinary Results
“Giles Hutchins has for over a decade led the way with his championship of learning through nature. His new book is a really important evolution of these ideas emerging into a philosophy of systems thinking/being – it’s bang on the money, a really important book that will inspire all those whose role it is to champion resilience and adaptability, ethical commercial development, wellbeing in the workplace and the nurturing of a moral compass.” – Sir Tim Smit, KBE, Founder of The Eden Project